BY LINDA MONDOUX
With the five-storey,
297-foot-long decommissioned Cold War-era submarine HMCS Ojibwa
finally safe and sound at her new home in the Lake Erie village of Port Burwell, work can begin to transform the sub,
saved from the scrap heap, into an interactive museum.
Excitement is building, with everyone from residents to sailors to politicians and businesses ready to lend support.
Even Canada Post is getting into the spirit of things, with a special Ojibwa
submarine logo to be hand-stamped on all outgoing mail brought to the
counter at the Port Burwell post office. The commemorative mark will be
used for the next six months. If you're a visitor checking out the
submarine, why not send yourself a letter home so you can receive the
commemorative mark. Or better yet, send yourself one of the special Ojibwa
postcards available from the Elgin Military Museum, the organization behind Project Ojibwa.
Area vintner Rush Creek Wines is also jumping aboard the sub museum bandwagon, with the issue of two fundraiser wines. The Rockin' Raspberry off-dry red and the Simply Apple semi-dry white wines both sport one-of-a-kind submarine labels. Buy either of these wines over the next year and the winery will donate 65 cents per bottle toward the museum fundraising effort.
ambitious project — the price tag to acquire the submarine from the
federal government, transport it from Halifax to Port Burwell and mount
her on a permanent foundation on dry land is a cool $6 million — is a
labour of love for the Elgin Military Museum, which jumped at the
opportunity to add the Ojibwa
to its museum, headquartered in St. Thomas.
is coming together now,” says Ian Raven, executive director of the
Elgin Military Museum. “We’ve moved from engineers sitting around a
table planning to doing.”
Because transporting the submarine
to landlocked St. Thomas would be an expensive nightmare, the museum’s
principals, armed with the promise of a $1.9-million federal community
adjustment grant in 2009, went searching for a nearby home with easy
When a proposed location in Port Stanley, 15
kilometres south of St. Thomas, didn’t work out, officials in the
neighbouring Municipality of Bayham, which includes Port Burwell, went
to work selling their Lake Erie community of 1,200 souls as the perfect
spot for what is expected to become the largest tourist attraction for
miles around — between 80,000 and 100,000 visitors a year are forecast.
Finding the perfect location for the submarine and a planned
“sub” station interpretation centre — complete with naval museum,
classroom, gift shop and restaurant — was the easy part. Moving the
to her new home would require months of planning and
engineering work, not to mention military precision.
very complex thing moving something five-storeys high and almost 300
feet long and turning it into a building,” says Melissa Raven, director
of communications for the Elgin Military Museum and Project Ojibwa.
Welcome party on the beach
Part One was accomplished in the spring, when the tug Florence M.
towed the Ojibwa
safely settled on a floating drydock designed by Heddle Marine of
Hamilton, from Halifax beginning on May 26, 2012. It was quite a
spectacle as the submarine travelled up the coast of Nova Scotia,
through the Straits of Canso, across the Gulf of St. Lawrence and up the
St. Lawrence River to Hamilton, arriving at the west end of Lake
Ontario on June 5. Once there, the Ojibwa
settled in at the Heddle
Marine dockyards for the summer and early fall to be spiffed up and outfitted with cradles for the
final leg of the journey through the Welland Canal to Port Burwell on
Lake Erie and then onto dry land.
With the weather all-clear, the Ojibwa
arrived in Port Burwell to cheering crowds and cannon fire on Nov. 20, delayed by about a week due to poor lake conditions caused by the remnants of Hurricane Sandy. No one seemed to mind as villagers and visitors gathered on the beach to welcome her home.
Off-load day — that’s when the submarine
will be driven ashore, carried by an 84-axle formation of self-propelled
heavy lift trailers, moved overland and carefully manoeuvred onto a
— was held a week later. Again, another small delay due to weather — this time wind and snow.
Ian Raven says the Ojibwa
which was finally placed on exhibit cradles weighing about 38 tons atop a
permanent foundation, will require “a lot of work” over the winter to
prepare it for guided tours in 2013, including the installation of
wiring and heating and cooling.
In case you’re wondering, the decision to keep the Ojibwa
ashore, rather than turning her into a floating museum on the lake,
meant a heavy-duty foundation needed to be engineered. There are four
pads four feet thick containing a total of 400 cubic metres of concrete,
plus a smaller one. The pads are held in place with 36 steel piles that
stretch down into the ground 120 feet.
“Ours will be quite
the different experience,” Melissa Raven tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com of the soon-to-be
submarine tourist attraction, which will be accessible to a wider range
of visitors because they can enter through doors, rather than climbing
Submarine will be equipped for sleepovers ...
will first check in to an administration building for a short
orientation before guided tours of the sub. They’ll learn about the
history of the Ojibwa
and submarines in Canada and can ask guides
questions. “This is about the people of the submarine service and the
guides are here to help tell their stories,” she says.
submarine, which will also be equipped for sleepovers, is expected to be
ready in the spring for what Raven is calling “shakedown tours” —
designed mostly for guides to practice for the public tours to be held
beginning in summer 2013.
There is much more work to do after the tours are launched,
however. The Elgin Military Museum plans to build a 15,000-square-foot
museum of naval history adjacent to the submarine. It’s here that
exhibits will tell Canada’s Cold War submarine stories, education will
take place and visitors can shop for gifts or enjoy a bite to eat. More
fundraising will be needed to build this part of the project. While
there is no price tag, there is a proposed schedule: construction to
begin in fall 2013 and the official opening to be held in summer 2014,
in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Submarine Service.
A tad ambitious? Not with this gung-ho, but cash-cautious,
organization at the helm and a score of backers across the country.
In fact, the Elgin Military Museum is so certain it has a winner on its hands that it expects to be
debt-free within a decade.
confident we can raise the funds,” Melissa Raven says of the $6-million cost of acquiring, moving
and mounting the submarine. The museum has received a line of
credit from a major bank based on repayment of the entire loan in eight
years, with the funds based solely on projected revenue from the tourist
attraction. The loan has been guaranteed by the Municipality of Bayham.
“It’s huge from Bayham,” Raven says of the guarantee. “They’re a tiny community and that’s a huge commitment on their part.”
sub museum will create permanent jobs, injecting an estimated annual
payroll of $500,000 into the local economy, not to mention the spin-off
tourist dollars the project will generate. Tourism is important to Port
Burwell, whose early economic engines included shipbuilding, fishing and
shipping. Today, the village is known for its beautiful sandy beaches,
provincial park and historic lighthouse.
tours begin in 2013, Port Burwell can be marketed to Americans as part
of a Great Lakes submarine tour. The USS Croaker
at Buffalo and the USS Cod
at Cleveland, both Second World War fighting craft, are popular in-water museums, and their supporters are eager to welcome the Ojibwa
to the fold.
You can check out the project website
for updates on the
and on how you can support it.
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — Updated November 2012